I really enjoy being a graphic designer. But dealing with difficult clients and co-workers is the unfortunate downside. So, what makes clients difficult? And what can we do about it? Here are a few of the more common types of difficult clients and suggestions for how to deal with them:
- They don't know what they want, but they need it quick.
They are under pressure to produce. And they need your help. They want to relieve this pressure, but they don't know what will do that for them. And they are probably under a time-crunch. What they need is your advice, but they are afraid of looking dumb.
Be patient. Take time to ask a lot of questions to understand their problem sufficiently, the constraints, and what would be considered an acceptable solution. Then write up a document (creative brief) laying out exactly what you will do for them. Give them a project timeline, and provide a clear strategy and list of deliverables they should expect. This will enable them to communicate with confidence with their superiors. And, keep in constant contact with them, so that they feel taken care of. A good rule of thumb is to communicate at the beginning and end of each phase in the project cycle.
- They don't give you many details, yet they want you to be "creative."
This person believes it's your job to find inspiration and innovative solutions. They just need to tell you what they want. They get annoyed when you keep involving them in the process, and asking them a lot of questions. They gave you the order, now fulfill it.
Ask a lot of questions anyway. Come to an understanding by writing everything down (creative brief) and having the client agree to it. If the client doesn't want to adhere to an agreement, find a diplomatic way of not working with them — yet. Who knows, they might like specifics again when they really want something done well.
- They don't have any money, but they want you to jump through hoops
When they come to you they are shopping for the best price. They don't understand what good design is. But they know it when they see it. So, they just need to guide you to the solution they want. Your value is not in your experience or ability, but the fact that you can realize their vision using design software.
This is a tough one. You shouldn't waste your time with many of these folks, because they can be the worst kinds of clients. However, there are some who have little or no experience with designers. In that case, education is the best way to go, and giving specifics like in a creative brief is a good strategy. However, I wouldn't advise lowering your estimate. Rather, it might be a good idea to lower the expectations and amount of features they want to get a more agreeable price. If that doesn't work, let them go find a cheaper solution.
- They keep changing the project scope.
This person always comes up with bright ideas, or discovers issues they never considered before. Now, they want you to accommodate their needs at no extra costs or time.
Remember, a change in scope is something that doesn't match the agreed upon parameters such as costs, features, and time. Let the client know specifically how the latest changes affect any of these areas in scope. And ask the client what they are willing to let go of in response. Then create a new agreement that matches the new scope. If the client doesn't want to adjust to reality, then let them know you just can't do it.
- They don't like anything that you come up with.
Every time you show them a design, they don't like the color, or the font, or the leading. It's always something. They ignore the whole and get fixated on the pieces.
Remind your client that you are not designing entirely for them, but for their audience. And then discuss how to evaluate a solution based on the agreed-upon parameters in the creative brief. Don't become a pair of hands for the client. Ask questions to arrive at a good solution. Then guide your client in how to evaluate solutions based on the brief.
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